Bangladesh should recommend the United Nations for deferring the next year's LDC (least developed country) graduation triennial review by three more years, considering the adverse impacts of Covid-19 pandemic, experts said.
With the proposal for additional time, the LDCs could get another three years to prepare themselves to overcome the post-graduation challenges and the global economy will possibly be recovered by the time, they said.
Highlighting the importance of bilateral trade agreements to cope up with the post-graduation challenges, they suggested holistic reforms in the policies to make business easier and simpler.
The suggestions came at a webinar on Saturday chaired by IBFB president Humayun Rashid.
The webinar was jointly organised by the International Business Forum of Bangladesh (IBFB) and the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) on LDC Graduation by 2024 and readiness of Bangladesh.
Presenting a keynote paper, research director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI) Dr Abdur Razzaque said more than 75 per cent of Bangladeshi export products enjoy tariff preferences in those markets.
He said Bangladesh's exports keep growing in the markets like the European Union, Canada, China, India and Japan, where the country enjoys zero tariff facility as an LDC.
But things will change in these markets soon after Bangladesh graduates from the LDC club as Bangladesh will be subjected to paying tariff between 8.61 per cent and 17 per cent there.
EU tariffs on Vietnam exports would come down to zero by 2027 because of the EU-Vietnam FTA while such tariff on Bangladesh would rise to about 10 per cent, he said.
"Bangladesh should take a proactive LDC leadership role writing to the UN not to recommend any country for graduation based on 2021 review and wait for the next review in 2024 because of the pandemic," he said.
Former MCCI president Nasim Manzur said Bangladesh is going to be a victim of its own success because of the loss of trade preferences.
Bangladesh's export growth has been substantial in the countries where they had preferential access, but it has been insignificant in the markets having no such a facility, he said.
"I think that is a proven fact that we need to maintain this. What will happen if it goes away? The EU-Vietnam FTA shows us what can happen. In fact, 18.5 per cent is what will happen in terms of additional cost of buying garments from Bangladesh and factories will be getting squeezed as the direct impact, " he said.
Mr Manzur laid emphasis on reducing the cost of doing business and raising competitiveness to overcome the situation.
"Are we competitive enough? The answer is no. Vietnam has lower cost of land, electricity and capital. If we reduce all those costs, we do not need incentives. The only reason we need the incentives because the cost of doing business is artificially high," he said.
Former BGMEA president Anwar-Ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez said the country' diplomats need to enhance their negotiating skills on the global stage and suggested the policymakers use the Rohingya issue while negotiating with the developed countries.
He was also recommending reviving the country's outdated education system and making the workforce in accordance with the requirements of the fourth industrial revolutions.
Distinguished fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue Professor Mustafizur Rahman said Bangladesh urgently needs to have bilateral agreements with friendly countries like Japan, Canada, China and India.
"There is a TRIPS extension facility for the LDCs. There is a window of opportunity for preferential treatment even if we become a non-LDC. That is why, strengthening our negotiations capacity is extremely important," he added.
Director General of WTO cell Hafizur Rahman said FTA (free trade agreement) with Bhutan is at the final stage while the same with Nepal will be finalised by December next.
At the same time, they have started the FTA process with Japan, Indonesia, Chile, Malaysia, Thailand and the ASEAN to cope with the possible challenges of the post-graduation regime, he said.
Speaking as the chief guest, Prime Minister adviser on the private industry and investment Salman Fazlur Rahman said the graduation will be taking place as scheduled, which is a matter of pride for the whole nation.
Mentioning various reforms in making business easier in the country, he said if they can create an enabling business climate that will help the nation gain from the post-graduation opportunities on a large scale.
"We are working hard keeping all the options open. We are working on FTA, bringing reform in the tax system and others," he said.
He also said one stop service, Padma Bridge and Matarbari deep seaport will be the game changer for the country in the coming years.